Sylvia Director Richard Prendergast “there’s a message of hope and appreciation for life”

Sylvia is a fantastic British film by director Richard Prendergast and is based on a true story. We caught up with him to find out more about this live action short film!

The stellar cast includes Jolie Lennon (Wonder Woman), Gaynor Fraser (Mr. Selfridge), Benjamin Hartley (Rogue One), Mick Fryer-Kelsey (Harry Potter) and introduces Maisie and Evie Prendergast.

This topical live action short begins with a family on their last road trip before they are forced to sell in their much loved car Sylvia. Writer/director Richard Prendergast’s award winning film is based on a real story and is now under Oscar consideration.

Life is a journey: A road trip in the family car “Sylvia” unfolds into something strange, something real, something unforgettable. 

Richard Prendergast has a truly natural ability for beautiful storytelling through film and video. His vision and passion, backed by his in depth technical ability and experience, make for exceptional thought provoking watch. He wrote and directed Sylvia, pouring over every meticulous detail within all aspects of the script and filming.

For those those who haven’t seen the live action short film Sylvia, please tell us about the film.  

Sylvia is a 17min film that’s based on a true story, shared online by thousands of people worldwide. Without giving away too many spoilers, Sylvia is about a family that embarks on one final road trip in their beloved family car.  Mandy, her two children Maisie and Evie and their grandmother, Linda set off on a seemingly regular family day out. Filled with singing, ice creams and games, it should be a happy occasion but as they draw toward their destination, it becomes clear that all is not as it seems. As the story unfolds, an undertone of tension builds and it’s not until the final scene when a letter found in the glove compartment reveals the true reason behind this significant final journey.

Sylvia is based on a true story, where did you come across this tale and what enticed you to make a film about it?

I run a production company with my wife, Rachel. We mostly produce commercials, branded content and short form documentary. I’d always wanted to try my hand at scripted narrative and for roughly a year, I was reading a lot of short stories to see if they would translate well into film. I was actually in post on a commercial and essentially procrastinating by reading nonsense on Facebook when I stumbled on the story. I was really moved by it and knew at that moment that this was the project I wanted to make as my first film. In addition to being a touching true story, I knew that it could be achieved on very little budget and we could shoot it right on our doorstep.

Your lead actress is magnificent, what made you cast her? 

Jolie was amazing to work with! My only experience with actors has been in advertising, so I found the process of casting Mandy’s role quite intimidating. I knew that the actress would need to really understand conflict within the character and subtlety portray them on screen. We certainly didn’t want any overacting. By a stroke of luck, Benjamin Hartley who plays Brian just so happened to have a casting agency called MFS Casting. He immediately said that Jolie would be perfect for the role and he wasn’t wrong. Not only is Jolie an amazing actress, she’s really easy to hang out with onset and was excellent with the kids.

The young lead actresses are your daughters and I have to say they are spectacular. Did you use a particular method to bring out such brilliant performances in them?

Haha, thank you! Let’s keep that to ourselves, otherwise they’ll want a pay rise for the next film. Rachel and I prepped them for about around 2 months by using long car journeys to talk through the script and pretend we’re making a film. Maisie, age 5,  knew her lines and Sylvia’s Mother off by heart after a few days, so I knew she would manage it fine. It wasn’t until the first day of shooting that it dawned on me that I’d cast my own 2 year old child in my car. I remember saying to Rach “How the hell do I direct Evie?”. There’s a scene that’s been cut from the final film where we needed her to cry on demand. Bizarrely, she understood this and we did 5 takes. She bust into tears, I would call cut and she’d stop. I’d love to take credit for it but looking back, Gaynor (Linda) and Jolie (Mandy) would spend hours in the car between takes playing with the girls and prepping them for the next scene. They were like a real little family by the end of the shoot.

You have been winning a number of accolades at film festivals, which have you attended and can your share your experience at those festivals. 

Yes we have screened at 30 festivals and won 14 awards along the way, it’s been an amazing experience to travel with a film and meet so many filmmakers and audiences. For varying reasons, our highlights have to be Cannes, Palm Springs and Manhattan Shorts. Cannes was incredible, simply to witness the grandeur of the event. It’s a completely different world to what we’re used to. Palm Springs on the other hand is a festival that’s really dedicated to likeminded filmmakers. It offers great workshops and networking events and for me, it’s the blueprint for how festivals should be run. However, it’s Manhattan Short that’s put us on the map. Each year they select just 10 films and screen them at 350 venues around the world, reaching an audience of around 100k people. So their business model is 100% audience driven. It’s been wonderful to receive so much positive feedback from a global audience. Oh, and Manhattan Short is the only festival that qualifies every film for Oscar consideration.

How have the audience reacted when they saw your film?

Screening a film for the first time is a tense experience. You’re displaying art, opening yourself up to scrutiny and hoping that people will enjoy it. I remember at the Sylvia premiere at the BAFTA cinema in Piccadilly, Rachel nudged me during the final scene and told me to look at the audience. Everyone was crying. That’s a pretty cool experience. We’ve had a lot of emails from people telling us how Sylvia has personally touched them. One email in particular from a young guy who was inspired to reconnect with his estranged parents, because after he watched Sylvia, he realised life was too short to hold a grudge. 

What would you like people to take away from this film?

Sylvia’s a really sad film, no doubt about that. But once you look beyond that, there’s a message of hope and appreciation for life. I think we’re so often wrapped up with fear of the future and regret of that past, we often forget to enjoy the things we have right now. I hope that people watch Sylvia and are reminded to appreciate life and the important people they’ve been gifted. You never know when they might be gone.

Did you come across any difficulties whilst filming? 

Most short films don’t have much budget and Sylvia was no different. Multiple shoot locations, car tracking, kids with dialogue, shooting outside in the UK, they all add up when you have limited time and budget. We experienced a lot of issues but mostly, it was getting the crew and cast all in one place, at the same time. Nearly everyone on the crew and cast gave up their time for free, so navigating the weather forecast and peoples calendars was tough. We had to postpone the first shoot due to weather. It took a further 3 months to make the stars align. 

Sylvia Official Trailer from SubMotion Productions Ltd on Vimeo.

What did you enjoy most about this project?

The most enjoyable aspect was the sense of community on set. We were aware that we didn’t have much budget and were asking people to give a lot of time for free, so we wanted the set to be as friendly as possible. I think that goes a long way. Seeing Jolie, Gaynor, Maisie and Evie bonding like family by the end of the shoot was very heart warming. Post production is an arduous process but luckily we had Jack Clayton-Wright working his magic. I remember the first time we laid Ludovico Einaudi, Nuvole Bianche under the final scene, that was the magical moment when everything clicked for me.

What is next for you?

Rachel and I are excited to be partnering up with Ben Hartley as we develop 2 feature films. Both very different in style and audience appeal. One is a BioPic Drama/Comedy and the other is psychological horror/sci-fi. We’ve developed a great team with Sylvia, so I’m excited to see what we can do with a feature film.

Please tell our readers how they can keep in touch with you. 

If you’d like to get in touch or follow our progress, here are all of Sylvia’s accounts;

Website – https://sylviafilm.com/

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/sylviafilm/

Instagram – sylvia_film

Twitter – https://twitter.com/submotionDOTnet

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